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Unleashing the "Girl Effect"
U.S. Girl Scouts are Helping Bring Economic—and Inspirational!—Girl Power to Young Women around the World

Policymakers are just beginning to recognize the power of the so-called "girl effect"—the ability of adolescent girls in developing countries to bring unprecedented economic change to their families, communities, and countries. Research has shown, for instance, that girls and women reinvest 90 percent of their income back into their families. Boys and men reinvest just 35–40 percent.

But for women to realize their economic potential, they first need educational opportunities. That's something that often requires changing deeply ingrained societal, family, and political beliefs. And that's where activists like 18-year-old Elizabeth Cantrall come in.

Last fall, Cantrall participated in "Rising Voices: Unleashing Young Women's Economic Potential." Sponsored by Vital Voices Global Partnership, the World Bank, and the Nike Foundation, the program kicked off the World Bank's Adolescent Girls Initiative. That initiative teaches girls business skills, provides mentoring, and makes small loans.

Cantrall joined other American teens to meet with young women from Guatemala, Laos, Uganda, and Liberia at the conference. They discussed economic development and spent time mentoring each other about what it takes to be a leader.

A member of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital, Cantrall already had personal experience taking initiatives in her community. Her father is in the military, and when her family lived in Germany she co-founded a planning board for the Girl Scout council that the Kaiserslautern military community was a part of. That group organized trips for older girls around the country.

Cantrall also visited India for a week on a Girl Scouts destinations trip, where she really got a feel for economic perspective. "If you were to give me a cow in the United States, I could make maybe $10 from the milk," she says. "My life wouldn't be changed. But in India, an additional $10 in your pocket leads to others in the community having a dollar extra in their pockets. That's a huge deal, because they don't have much to begin with."

At the Rising Voices event, Cantrall and the other American girls were interviewed by their peers from developing countries.

"They wanted to know what they as youth needed to do to have their voices heard," she says. "Their big question was, 'How do you talk to adults?'"

Cantrall acknowledged that it's hard to speak out. "It's tough and it takes a lot of courage," she says. "I told them to not be afraid to stand up. To think everything through. Know what you're talking about. Then you just have to grit your teeth and go for it." She adds, "No matter how old you are, if you really care about what you're doing, other people will care, too."

Although Cantrall initially assumed she was at the conference just to give advice and encouragement, she took something away, too. "The point was to empower these girls, but it made me feel more empowered. And it makes me amazed by Girl Scouts. This organization is really designed for us."

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